Summertime Blues on Whyte: City may change zoning rules to let venue open patio

The Commercial Hotel and Blues on Whyte, famous for their live music and jam sessions on the weekends, added a large patio in 2021 that opened without a permit. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
The Commercial Hotel and Blues on Whyte, famous for their live music and jam sessions on the weekends, added a large patio in 2021 that opened without a permit. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

Fans of the Commercial Hotel's Blues on Whyte pub may enjoy music on the establishment's spacious patio this season if city council agrees to change the zoning rules for the area.

The patio, built on the east side of the hotel, is 3,410 square feet — too big for the current zoning.

New spaces opening on Whyte Avenue are limited to 2,600 square feet, inside and outside combined.

The city recommends creating a sub-area so the business at 10329 Whyte Ave. can open its large patio legally this summer.

The patio exists now but "without permits," the city report says.

"The purpose is to expand opportunities and facilitate the continued viability of the Commercial Hotel in recognition of the unique building and site."

Pandemic patio push

The Commercial Hotel built and operated the patio without a licence in 2021.

The city put a stop order on the operation. The venue then went through several steps to get the patio reopened and was initially refused a development permit.

The venue applied to the city in May last year to have the area rezoned.

The proposed changes to the Strathcona Area Redevelopment Plan are outlined in a report that administration is asking city council to consider at a public hearing March 13.

Rose Ross, director of the Commercial Hotel and Blues on Whyte, said the business built the patio to provide an option during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic was particularly harsh on the hospitality and live music business sectors and the temporary patio helped the business survive," Ross said in an emailed statement this week.

She said if council supports the rezoning, it would be a win-win for live music and patrons of the Old Strathcona area.

"The patio draws an important demographic to our vibrant and diverse neighborhood and it represents a best use scenario for an otherwise unsightly parking lot on our private property."

Whyte becoming diverse

Chris Dulaba was working for Beljan Development, the company that bought and renovated the nearby Strathcona Hotel when the patio opened.

Now the vice-president of real estate with Go Auto, which co-owns the hotel, Dulaba said he supports having the patio at the iconic music venue, instead of a parking lot.

"Would you rather have a dead space that is only used for cars or would you rather have that space that fronts onto Whyte Avenue for people?"

The avenue appeals to a diverse demographic, offering restaurants, bars and music venues, he said.

"It is becoming more of a well-rounded neighborhood — not a place for the under-25 crowd to go and drink," he suggested. "I think that's really what it's about, is that ability to become attractive to those that are 18 and those that are 88."

City councillor Tim Cartmell supports opening the space up to people and activity.

He said the move to rezone isn't just about having more patios with more drinking and music.

"Let's have more nightlife, more night time economy, more places of assembly, more cool places where people gather," Cartmell said.

"The narrative we hear sometimes from some of those younger generations is that it's much more exciting, much more appealing, much more interesting in Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal or even Calgary."

Noise concerns

Some local businesses aren't sold on the change, citing concerns about noise and more night-time activity.

Mark Wilson, owner of Vivid Print on Whyte Avenue, said some noise in the area is expected, but the music from the Blues on Whyte patio has been excessive.

"It's a Sunday afternoon and they're blasting up and down the avenue," he said. "And the rest of our businesses are being disturbed by the noise. It's a little frustrating."

Wilson said most establishments have been respectful of their neighbours.

'We've not really seen an issue like this before where it's basically a rock concert every time that they open up their patio."

Overlay in question

The city put restrictions on the area in 2003 — called the Whyte Avenue Commercial Overlay — which limit bars and pubs to 2,600 square feet of public space and fewer than 200 patrons.

Wilson said if the city rezones the area for the Commercial Hotel, it could pave the way for more drinking establishments.

"I think the difficulty with allowing this to go forward is that there's the potential that this sets precedent for other bars," Wilson said. "And once we have that, there's a huge possibility that we'll lose the daytime economy in the area."